Jun 29, 2010

Google Voice: Quality of Service, so far

Google Voice started out as a Silicon Valley startup (GrandCentral) whose value proposition was 'one number for all your phone access lines, for life.' News articles say that Google has improved the original GrandCentral service. Good (that's a 'd' on the end, not a 'g'), but not good enough.

A free service deserves a lot of forgiveness because it is FREE, but every product manager knows about market requirements that are check-box items, ones that the target audience thinks are 'givens,' that if not delivered, the whole product or service gets bad-mouthed. One such check-box item for any voice-based product is voice quality.

Ideally, one spends resources to cover the minimum set of check-box items to a 'no objections' level, but really invests in honing the differentiating features to make them better than customers expected. A successful marketing slogan that some vendor has promoted was "delight the customer".

Google Voice's voice quality is not good. There are drop-outs, echos... probably those packets were assigned low priority in the network. That is not good for a voice-based product.

On the positive side of the balance sheet, what differentiating factors does Google Voice have that might compensate for poor voice quality?
  • FREE service. That pricing structure is becoming a check-box item. Google has made 'free' an intrinsic part of their brand and have driven most B2C web application to follow.
  • Users can choose their own phone number from a set of numbers. Google doesn't make it easy but it's worth the effort.  Most people use a monthly flat fee for national calls so 'local area codes' are less of a differentiating benefit than they used to be.
  • Integration with other Google services such as delivery of message notices to your mail box, not only your Gmail mail box. This is a win-win for the user and for Google. It's called cross-marketing where products help each other.
  • Voice to text -- The accuracy is not great but the benefit is users can access voicemails with email. If I miss a crucial word or two, I don't have to linearly hear the whole audio message from the beginning to try to catch the words I missed. The added benefit is I have a written version that is editable and shareable.
  • An unusual feature is Google Voice announces callers and users must click a key to accept the call.  Not very effective in screening spam calls, but they must consider users with no visual caller ID capability.
  • The feature I like best is the ability to put the "Call Me" icon on any web presence where I can add HTML. That feature increases my customer intimacy. My readers can interact with my content by adding text comments or talk to me for free by using Google Voice.
Other features such as making free calls or sending text messages within the US, ringing all specified devices at the same time, creating custom greetings for different incoming callers are nice but not "delightful."

Jun 16, 2010

Why Keep Supposedly Landline Phone Service?

I would LOVE to get rid of my landline but I keep the it because
  • Back in the Dark Ages, landline calls to 911 allow the operators to locate the physical location of the phone based on the 'the other end of the landline circuit.' I had erroneously believed that the landline will save a few seconds because 911 operators can look up the landline's physical address. This is no longer a good reason to retain a landline because e-911 has been implemented for mobile services as well as for VoIP phones. It might be harder for 911 operators to locate you, but they are able to do so.
  • Starting back in the Dark Ages and continuing to today, credit card companies use the landline's caller ID to verify your identity. That use-case is fraught with security problems but it's still more convenient to activate credit cards by calling from the landline than going through the newer authentication hoops constructed by credit card companies.
  • Service providers such as phone and cable companies have hidden landline fees into bundles of services such as Triple Play. Their pricing schemes make subscription fees for bundles lower than buying only the services you want, such as omiting the landline.
  • Even though landlines aren't circuit switched anymore (no longer a dedicated circuit), they are actually VoIP, people erroneously believe that landlines are still dedicated lines and therefore provide more clear calls with fewer or no dropped packets. This is NOT TRUE. There is legislation in process to prohibit network managers from prioritizing service for marketing reasons -- meaning 'landlines' get higher network priority and therefore better call quality than, say, mobile calls.
  • Calls made on the landline are 'sunken,' I've already paid for it whether I use it or not whereas if I use per-call fees for mobile calls, I save a little bit by using the landline instead of the mobile phone. Most people pay for both -- landline as well as monthly cell phone charges -- whether they use either phones at all. Why?
Many people have had the same landline number for years so they keep it for the convenience of their friends and vendors. I think nowadays, with web pages being constantly updated with no notice, people are more used to a continual flux. The deciding factor for whether to keep the same number is entirely based on how easy is its to 'migrate' or export your contacts to your new number.

I recently signed up for Google Voice. It's a step toward enabling anyone to reach me at any time, easily and for FREE. Thanks to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) advanced features, Google will connect anyone with me using any of the devices that I specified such as the landline, or the mobile phone, or both, or some other device, without revealing my phone number!

Try it! Click the image.

Jun 9, 2010

Comparison of Video Performance: Microsoft (WMV) , Apple (QT) and Adobe (FLV)

I've had a bad attitude about Flash (Adobe) performance, especially because it doesn't seem to be supported by 64-bit browsers. I've used WMV (Microsoft) as my default video player because I have a windows machine, but I do play games  that use Quicktime (Apple) and Flash (Adobe) so have some experience with all three video players.

This ZD blogpost tests these three players on three machines:
  • Thinkpad X200, a newer Windows machine
  • MacBook Pro 13, a newer Mac
  • Thinkpad T60, an older Windows machine
Here's an excerpt of the results
Average usage rate for Firefox.

Older Thinkpads and MacBooks

Results are fairly close. For newer machines (chart on right), Wave wins by having the lowest percentage CPU usage while Quicktime edges ahead of Wave in remaining battery by 2%. For older machines (chart above), Flash wins in both categories. Quicktime couldn't finish playing the test movie before its battery ran out. 

Adobe has improved Flash a great deal on the Windows platform rendering invalid most of the arguments against it.

The ZD blogpost has good comments on how the various players do or do not support hardware acceleration and the authoring companies' reasons. Might be too geeky for my readers.

Jun 6, 2010

Another Giant Leap for Mankind: Synthetic Life Achieved May 20, 2010

J. Craig Venter is not known for charm, but he is undoubtedly one of the most effective scientists of all time, certainly on a par with Isaac Newton, though they both stood on the shoulders of giants. Dr. Venter decoded the human genome; in fact, his own genome. He personally dived the Sargasso Sea to collect hundreds of yet-to-fore unknown organisms and will decode their genomes thereby enriching our knowledge and likely opening new opportunities to enrich our lives.

Do take the time to view Dr. Venter's May 20, 2010, 18:18 minute video explaining the synthetic life project.

So, why haven't the news channels been yammering about it 24/7 like they do for comparatively trivial events? I am unencumbered by any real knowledge so this is pure speculation, but I suggest that the reason for relative disinterest is Dr. Venter has already set up the scaffolding for a commercial venture to exploit this achievement and therefore it is too crass. News people might say that they don't want to be unwitting (or unpaid) advertisers for Dr. Venter. Or maybe the science necessary to explain the project well is too esoteric and the ramifications too mind-boggling for journalists to capture?

I believe that Dr. Venter has already convened a legal entity that has filed patents for his truly innovative processes. I believe that license terms have already been drafted and funding and partnership deals are already underway for joint research, etc. therefore the traditional route for reporting scientific breakthroughs, namely publish in Nature, has already been rejected. So is this a case of a highly structured marketing plan negating the free publicity of a news frenzy?
The Science Channel has already broadcasted two one-hour programs on synthetic life -- one about the project itself and another with bio-ethicist and a priest, hosted by Paula Zahn who did everything she can to sensationalize and sound the alarm about the dangers and threats this discovery may pose.

Feedback from a MicroBiologist
Talked to a microbiologist who I trust today. She said she had read some of the discussion in the science community about Venter's announcement.   They seem to feel that what he and his team did was a proof of concept, putting a puzzle together, not a big step forward. The pro-Venter faction say that people scoffed at the Wright brothers as well.

I can't help thinking that Venter's personality probably did not win him many supporters. Politics pervade all endeavors.